Blackburn, T.M. & Gaston, K.J. (eds) ( 2003 ) Macroecology: concepts and consequences . 43rd Annual Symposium of the British Ecological Society . Cambridge University Press , Cambridge, UK . xvii + 442 pp . , figs, tables, line diagrams, index. Hardback: price £65.00, US$100.00 , ISBN 0521839963 . Paperback: price £36.95, US$60.00 , ISBN 0521549329 .

Price, P. W. ( 2002) Macroevolutionary theory on macroecological patterns. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. x + 291 pp., figs, tables, line diagrams, halftones, indexes. Hardback: price £65.00, ISBN 0521817129. Paperback: price £26.00, ISBN 0521520371.

James Brown and Brian Maurer formalized the macroecological research programme at the end of 1980s, in an attempt ‘… to introduce simultaneously a geographical and historical perspective to understand more completely the local abundance, distribution and diversity of species …’ (Brown, 1995; p. 7). It was clear, even at that time, that additions to the emerging research programme would come, since increasing the analytical and theoretical scales of investigations in all fields of ecology would imply an increase in the complexity of interactions among different research fields. Indeed, since then some books and hundreds of papers have appeared within the subject of macroecology. However, even though James Brown recognized in his 1995 book that macroecology has its roots in the population and community models developed earlier in ecology, evolutionary biology, palaeobiology, physiology and biogeography, it was difficult to imagine the plethora of new inclusions that have occurred in the last few years. To me, showing these additions clearly and establishing the state-of-the-art of the field is the main contribution of Tim Blackburn and Kevin Gaston's (2003) book. It is the result of the first large international meeting dedicated to macroecology, held by the British Ecological Society within its 43th symposium, in Birmingham, UK, in April 2002.

The book is divided into 8 parts, with a total of 21 chapters, covering very distinct subjects, ranging from allometry and scaling issues (Chapter 10 and the entire Part 7) to broad-scale diversity gradients (Part 3), viewed in a more integrated context. For example, understanding broad-scale patterns in diversity is certainly a ‘Holy Grail’ of ecological research, but this research programme has been recently reinvigorated by inputs from correlated ideas in macroecology. For instance, biochemical kinetics, derived from first metabolic principles, was recently used as an initial attempt to develop a mechanistic model for diversity gradients in ectothermic organisms (Allen et al., 2002). The same refreshing winds touch other related fields covered in the book, such as: the study of species–area relationships (Chapter 6); the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of range borders (Part 6); the evolution of body sizes (Part 4); and life-history implications for understanding extinctions (Part 5), the models to fit species–abundance distributions (Parts 1 and 2) and the classical debate between deterministic and stochastic processes driving community dynamics — now in the context of Hubbell's neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography (Chapter 4; see also Bell, 2001). Also, the importance of macroecological framework to conservation biology (Chapter 18) is now widely recognized, although there is still work to do (see Whittaker et al., 2005). Anyway, after about 15 years since the original formulation of macroecology as a new research programme, it is quite interesting to read in the last chapter (21), written by James Brown and colleagues, that the prefix ‘macro’ in Macroecology refers primarily to a large number of ‘ecological particles’. This view, coupled with the more ‘traditional’ idea of macroecology as the study of broad spatial and long temporal scales in ecology, seems to capture much better the essence of the enlarged research programme revealed in the book. My impression is that, after many years of fermentation, ideas developed back in the 1950s and 1960s are now being re-evaluated and integrated into a more robust theoretical and methodological framework, providing then a new taste to all these old ‘fine wines’.

An additional interesting point is that, despite all efforts to integrate macroecology into a coherent field covered by the book, I still believe that one of the multiple possible ways forward is to focus more on the evolutionary components of macroecological dynamics. Indeed, many chapters in Gaston and Blackburn's book touch on this point and advance explicit evolutionary explanations for macroecological patterns (e.g. Chapters 1, 2, 8, 9, 10, 19 and 20). This gap has just started to be filled and, indeed, is the main goal of the book by Peter Price. Price's book is based on years of research on plant–insect interactions and insect herbivore ecology, and deeply develops Price's phylogenetic constraint hypothesis, which argues that ‘… macroevolutionary patterns provide the mechanistic foundation for understanding broad ecological patterns in nature involving the distribution, abundance and population dynamics of species and higher taxa’ (p. 5). Because the theory is basically developed and tested with herbivorous insects, there are three chapters focusing on the ecology and biology of the model organisms (although there is a short, but fair, attempt to apply the theory to other animal groups and plants). A very nice part of the book is that Price explicitly establishes the conditions for testing his theory, in a Popperian epistemological framework (p. 238).

Because of the large scope of macroecology today, it is not hard to imagine that many topics are missing from Price's book, which is focused on life-history and abundance patterns and comparative population dynamics. In the book, the term macroecology is ‘extended to its logical limit … and becomes equivalent in scope to the term macroevolution’ (p. 4), placing it clearly within the general context of comparative ecology. But, ironically, the main gap in the book seems to be exactly that phylogeny is not explicitly taken into account, under the excuse that good phylogenies are not available for the model organisms discussed. Unfortunately, this led to ignoring the large technical literature on measuring phylogenetic constraints, signals and evolutionary correlations developed in the last 20 years (see Freckleton et al., 2002; for a recent review of applications to ecological data), which would be quite helpful for testing Price's ideas. Of course, once theoretical aspects are fully understood, it should be easier to start discussing the best methodological strategies to test and further develop the theory and obtain the necessary data.

Thus, these two additions to the macroecology library provide important theoretical and methodological updates to the macroecological research programme. Whereas Blackburn and Gaston's book provides an up-to-date and panoramic view of macroecology today, Price's book can be considered obligatory reading for those interested in links between macroecology and evolutionary theory and in insect macroecology. More importantly, they may show which gaps must be filled and, hence, may furnish new guidelines for research agenda in the years to come.


  1. Top of page
  • Allen, A.P., Brown, J.H. & Gillooly, F.J. (2002) Global biodiversity, biochemical kinetics and the energetic equivalence rule. Science, 297, 15451548.
  • Bell, G. (2001) Neutral Macroecology. Science, 293, 24132418.
  • Brown, J.H. (1995) Macroecology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.
  • Freckleton, R.P., Harvey, P.H. & Pagel, M. (2002) Phylogenetic analysis and comparative data: a test and review of evidence. American Naturalist, 160, 712726.
  • Whittaker, R.J., Araújo, M.B., Jepson, P., Ladle, R.J., Watson, J.E.M. & Willis, K.J. (2005) Conservation biogeography: assessment and prospect. Diversity and Distributions, 11, 323.